Holy Bull, My Mother and the Unbridled Power of Love.
Terri Keith did a lovely job of honoring the late, great Holy Bull here on Talk of the Track. I can add nothing to that homage, it’s perfect in and of itself.
But I do want to thank the great horse, myself–for I have a sweet memory of him, and the role he played in the life of my most-beloved mother.
It’s been a few days since Holy Bull died, but I’ve just-now found something that I wrote, which I’d like to share with you. I penned this a few years ago, for inclusion in Juliet Harrison’s elegant coffee table book, “Track Life: Images and Words” (2013) Juliet (very graciously) asked me to write a memory of Saratoga, as she’d asked approximately 20 other writers. I was honored, to be invited to participate.
The best memory I had to share was that of Holy Bull, Thunder Gulch and my dear, late Mother.
I want to share this memory of the beautiful Bull…I think it will be OK with Juliet. (N.B.: Juliet is a gifted photographer, whose originals, prints and books you can view and purchase through her website. Check it out, and visit her at Equis Art Gallery in Red Hook, New York.) http://julietrharrisonphotography.com/
Sans further ado, here’s Mommy’s Last Out:
If I’m a freak for horses, blame my Mother. She’s the one who taught me the love of God’s equines, and the thrill of the race. From age four, I was at a racetrack (Green Mountain or Saratoga) with her, observing her carefully-chosen 50-cent bets and absolute joy when her critter crossed the line first.
As I grew into my teens and a bit beyond that, I did go to the track with friends. But attending with Mommy was much more interesting: friends wanted to hang out, flirt with jockeys and imbibe. Mommy wanted to sit on the Clubhouse Porch all day—eat a nice lunch, bet on her horses and be right there at the finish line when she won. Her passion for the horses and the sport was contagious, and apparently, congenital.
I abandoned the friends for my racing mentor by the time I was 22.
Mommy loved Holy Bull. She’d watched his two-year-old season in ’93, and decided that he was a Champion in the making. I’m sure that she experienced even greater joy than that known by even his connections. She was in the throes of her war with cancer that summer, and as she held Hope for Holy Bull’s future, she was driven to live, to see him race as a three-year-old. Sure enough, the summer of ’94, we all thought she was doing rather well—so well, in fact, that she made the trip to Saratoga and onto her Porch for Holy Bull’s Travers race.
In the moments that he graced the winner’s circle, she pronounced that, if she died that evening, she could die knowing that she’d seen greatness in action.
I agreed, but because I, too, had witnessed greatness in action—twice.
By the following May, Mommy was a home Hospice patient, just four weeks from meeting Secretariat in Heaven. Intellectually sharp as a tack, she asked that I study the entries for the Kentucky Derby aloud, and help her pick. This was our last handicapping experience together.
She liked Lake George for his name, she really liked Serena’s Song—but about Thunder Gulch she had “a feeling.” She couldn’t shake it, so in the days leading up to the race, we planned to bet him, long-shot and all.
He won, she won, I won a memory that never will fade.
Mommy died three days before her boy’s Belmont. I watched the race on TV, cradling the box with my Mother’s ashes and crying my guts out. I wept because she was so newly-dead. Because we weren’t watching the Belmont together, pounding on our chairs and screaming.
I cried because it was so, so good, and so, so sad.
Per Mommy’s pre-passing instructions, I attended the Travers in August. I went alone: I couldn’t stand to make inane chatter with anyone on such a long day. I was there just to see Thunder Gulch win.
And of course he won—how could he not? I’m convinced that—besides the fact that he was immensely talented—Thunder Gulch took the day because he knew that my Mother loved him, and was giving him a hand ride from her heavenly perch.
Thank you to all the horses whom my Mother loved over the years, and for the passion that she ignited in me. Thank you, bless you—Holy Bull and Thunder Gulch—for lovingly escorting my Mother through her last two earthly years. Indeed, weeping may last for a night—but the joy of remembrance truly does come in the morning.
Holy Bull wins the Travers, 1994, courtesy of ESPN.